Guiding Stars Aids in Healthier Choices: Study

According to a recent study in the journal Food Policy, the nutrition rating program “Guiding Stars” affects supermarket shoppers’ selections, significantly boosting demand for products that are evaluated as more nutritious, at the expense of those rated less so.

“Effects of the Guiding Stars Program on purchases of ready-to-eat cereals with different nutritional attributes” found that shoppers were significantly more likely to choose ready-to-eat cereals with one, two or three Guiding Stars, which indicates a higher nutritional value, than those with zero stars, or a lower nutritional value. As a result, the market shares of cereals earning Guiding Stars rose, while those without stars decreased in relative proportion. At the same time, the study suggested that Guiding Stars point-of-purchase information led customers to become more loyal to items earning stars, even if their prices fluctuate.

The independent research, conducted by scientists at the USDA, FDA and the University of Florida, affirms earlier studies finding that the program encourages consumers to choose more nutritious foods, especially when making quick purchase decisions. The current study, which was undertaken in response to the Institute of Medicine’s 2012 report on front-of-pack nutrition labeling systems, showed that the presence of POS guidance may aid consumers in choosing products that are more nutritious in terms of the Guiding Stars rating.

The study “demonstrates that such systems can indeed positively influence consumer purchasing behavior,” noted Leslie M. Fischer, PhD, MPH, RD of UNC-Department of Nutrition, and a member of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. “This work … independently demonstrates that the Guiding Stars program has succeeded at helping shoppers to make more nutritious food choices, thus fulfilling the goal of the program.”

In conducting the study, researchers looked at purchase data of ready-to-eat cereals before and after implementation of Guiding Stars at 134 Hannaford grocery stores, comparing them with data from an equal number of Hannaford-like control stores across the United States without Guiding Stars. The control stores were included to separate program effects from non-program effects like pricing and advertisements.

“These independent results once again demonstrate the positive impact our efforts have on helping consumers make better nutritional choices for themselves and their families,” said Jim McBride, director of operations at Portland, Maine-based Guiding Stars. “[I]t is further evidence to our clients, as well as other retail and foodservice operators, that Guiding Stars is an effective, easy and convenient solution to encourage healthy choices.”

The system evaluates the nutritional value of every item in the store using a patented algorithm based on the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other national evidence-based nutrition policies.

Introduced in 2006, Guiding Stars has since rolled out to more than 1,800 supermarkets in North America, among them Hannaford, Food Lion, Sweetbay, Homeland and Marsh Supermarkets, as well as to public school, college, hospital and corporate cafeterias. It also appears on the Shopper mobile iPhone application.

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